Carson Chiprez battles back from torn ACL to enjoy one last season of baseball
Matt LevinsThe Hawk Eye
It was a night Carson Chiprez will never forget.
It was Oct. 1, 2021, Homecoming for the West Burlington-Notre Dame high school football team. The Falcons were playing Fairfield at Bill Nelson Field in West Burlington. The next night would be the annual Homecoming dance and all the hoopla surrounding Homecoming week.
For Chiprez, a senior at Notre Dame High School, it turned into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.
As Chiprez went up to intercept a pass, he landed awkwardly and crumpled to the grass. The pain searing up his leg told him there was something seriously wrong. Tests revealed what Chiprez already suspected — a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Facing up to a year of rehabilitation, Chiprez's football season was over and his senior season of track was out the window.
Yet the only thing that crossed Chiprez's mind was baseball. His father, Chris, is head coach of the Notre Dame High School baseball team. His older brother, Drew, was an all-state third baseman and was set to be an assistant coach this summer.
Would Carson Chiprez be there on the field with his father and brother, or would his baseball season, too, be only a fleeting dream?
Almost miraculously, Chiprez made it back in time to play the entire baseball season for The Nikes. Just six months after tearing his ACL and having it surgically repaired, he was back for opening day and had helped Notre Dame to a 14-10 record heading into Tuesday's Class 1A district semifinal game against Keota.
Against almost all odds, Chiprez accomplished what seemed impossible six months earlier.
“I wasn’t thinking much because I was in a lot of pain. When I got back on the sideline I was thinking,’ Wow. I’m never going to play Notre Dame baseball again.’ It was a tough couple weeks," Carson Chiprez said. “My final season playing with my Dad and Drew, so that really motivated me to get back out here and play.”
“It’s hard, especially with Carson. He’s such a sports nut and an athlete," Chris Chiprez said. "To see him lose half his football season his senior year and then lose all of his track season … he was going to qualify for Drake. He probably would have qualified for the state track meet. Obviously the heartbreaker was baseball. We were extremely scared that he wasn’t going to be able to play his senior year. We’re a baseball family and it was really tough. I’ll give him credit. He had a positive attitude the entire time and he worked his butt off. He did extra work to get back to play his senior season. We’re very blessed to have him back.”
Carson Chiprez credits the physical therapists at Universal Therapy, specifically Kyle Peterson, with helping him recover in time for the baseball season.
Chiprez developed a close bond with Peterson, a graduate of Burlington High School who went on to play college baseball and battled back through a horrific injury of his own. Peterson knew how much it meant to Carson Chiprez to get back on the field as soon as possible.
“Kyle Peterson worked with me. He helped me physically first. Mentally he really helped me to trust myself again. He made physical therapy fun. I really like him. We developed a really good friendship through it," Carson said. “The whole Universal Therapy staff pushed me hard every single day, three times a week. I had a home therapy session kind of. I took it really seriously.”
Chiprez was one of five Notre Dame senior to suffer torn ACLs in the last two years. He got plenty of encouragement and advice from fellow Notre Dame senior Katy Stephens, whose torn ACL cost her an entire year of sports.
“I talked to Katy a lot and she helped me through the process," Carson said. "I have really good teammates, which was awesome. I was really lucky.”
Chiprez went to physical therapy three times a week and did extra work at home. He didn't have to look beyond the walls of his own home for extra motivation to work hard. He wanted to share one last season of baseball together with his father and brother.
“They were telling me that they wanted to see me back out here. I wanted to do that," Carson said. “Before the first week of the season I talked with my brother and dad and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I’m fit for the job.’ They trust me and all of my teammates trust me. That helped me immensely.”
“He was at his therapy sessions routinely," Chris Chiprez said. "He did extra work. They gave him exercises to do at home and he did them. He religiously iced. He did everything he was supposed to do to get back here. It’s a blessing to have him back.”
Carson Chiprez hardly has skipped a beat this season. Through 23 games, he was hitting .367 with two doubles, one triple and two home runs. He had scored 28 runs and driven in 17 and was successful on 16 of 19 stolen base attempts.
Those numbers are eerily similar to his numbers last year when he hit .367 with three doubles and two triples. scored 32 runs and drove in nine and was 27-of-29 in stolen base attempts.
But Carson Chiprez's value to the team goes far beyond the numbers. The senior third baseman is the team leader, both vocally and emotionally. He has helped lead a young Notre Dame team to a solid season.
“It was really nerve wracking. My second live at bat was my first at bat of the season. I was nervous, but I breathed and did my job. Usually at the beginning of the game I’ve got some nerves, but after that I’m pretty mellowed out and ready to play," Carson said. “I’m still not fully back yet physically, but I’m slowly getting there.”
“I remember back to that football injury. That was the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Oh no. We lost him for the baseball season,’" Chris Chiprez said. "To have him come back in six months … he’s our clear-cut leader on this team. He makes things go. He’s a competitor, too. He leads by example and other kids follow. It’s been a real blessing to have him back here on the team.”
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.